There’s a point in Neil Marshall’s Hellboy reboot where a handful of demons get loose on Earth, and the audience can practically hear the film’s special-effects artists rolling up their sleeves and cackling. As the demons tear through crowds of screaming, terrified bystanders, the film breaks down into a bloodbath. Writhing bodies are ripped apart. A man’s face is torn off. Moaning people are skewered on the legs of a walking demon, and heads explode into gushy messes. Why is any of this happening? What in the action that led up to this moment would justify what’s going on? The filmmakers don’t particularly seem to care. It’s enough for them to have gallons of vivid CGI blood spattering the lens, turning the screen into particularly gory death-metal album art for a few vaguely justified moments.
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That sequence is a particularly blatant statement of purpose for Marshall’s Hellboy, but it isn’t the only one. From an introductory wrestling sequence in a Tijuana luchador ring to at least half a dozen other bloody sequences where bodies get hacked, smashed, and reduced to rubbery gobs of meat, the film seems like it was made by people who were honestly frightened the MPAA vetting squad might only watch one sequence, fail to see enough gore, and slap a PG-13 rating on the film. The 2019 Hellboy feels like a metal cover version of Guillermo del Toro’s earlier Hellboy films. Mike Mignola’s source comics give the story the same central characters and basic ideas, but all the action has been ramped up and rushed, taken to extremes that feel like they’re meant to serve a younger, cruder, angrier audience.
The film opens with a flashback to the Dark Ages, as King Arthur (Mark Stanley) and Merlin (Brian Gleeson) face down an immortal, immensely powerful witch (Milla Jovovich) who claims she wants humans and monsters to live together in a shared world. Perhaps cued by the fact that she goes by “Vivienne Nimue, the Blood Queen,” Arthur and Merlin betray her and hack her into bits, crating up the parts of her body and sending them to the furthest reaches of Britain, in a clear setup for a complicated fetch-quest. In the modern day, some of Hellboy’s worst enemies team up to nab those parts and reassemble Nimue, in order to end the human world.
One of the great peculiarities of Andrew Cosby’s script (which melds stories from a number of Mignola’s comics arcs) is that all this happens before the audience has any idea who these enemies are, or even who Hellboy is. The story regularly introduces characters like Hellboy’s partner Esteban (Mario de la Rosa), or his spirit-medium acquaintance Alice Monaghan (American Honey star Sasha Lane), with offhand references that suggest the audience already knows them from previous stories. It’s a frequently confusing approach that may leave viewers feeling like they’re watching a sequel to a movie they never saw — except that eventually, at weirdly inappropriate moments, the film heads into flashback territory to fill in the gaps. See More: